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Is your defensive shooting stance really something you can choose?

Is your defensive shooting stance really something you can choose?

RECOIL Magazine, as you may have heard, is back in big way with all new management and a revised attitude. Though they tout themselves as a “gun lifestyle” magazine, that doesn’t seem to limit them to mere fluff; a recent article from Aaron Cowan, titled “History and the Fighting Stance III: what Burroughs found”, is a good example.

Cowan makes the case that a shooting stance when faced with a surprise lethal threat is a matter of instinct; the body assumes a physical position which squares off to the target and extends the protective tool (the handgun) straight out from the body. He cites several empirical studies which conclude that, regardless of prior training, most people adopt this Isoceles-like stance when faced with a sudden threat in a high-level simulation. This, he believes, is a parallel to what actually happens.


Even with the impressive numbers gleaned from those experiments, they’re still simulations; at a base level the participants still know that they’re not going to get killed, that there is no actual lethal threat. I believe that the percentages for real threats would be even higher, and the available objective evidence seems to support this belief.

If we look at videos of actual defensive shootings, those where the defender was surprised by his or her attacker, the percentages appear much higher. Though we don’t know the training backgrounds of the defenders, it is almost universal that regardless of any (or no) prior training, those using both hands on the gun end up in a shooting position which has them squared to the target, with a lowered center of gravity and a distinct forward lean, and their arms extended straight in front of their centerline. In fact, I have yet to see a surveillance or dashcam video with a truly surprise attack in which a classic Weaver or Chapman stance (with some degree of bent arms and bladed torso) is used; I’m sure they’re out there, somewhere, but I have yet to see one.

These observations and experiments shouldn’t be surprising to anyone, yet the notion of contrived stances continues to be a source of contention in the defensive shooting world. The realities are really not all that complicated: our bodies have evolved to deal with threats in specific ways which maximize our innate abilities or compensate for our relative inabilities. This doesn’t even begin to account for the non-observable reactions that we have, reactions that affect our vision and even our perceptions of our environment — all of which affect how and what we train. Rather than trying to train ourselves away from what our bodies do naturally, I believe that it’s a much better use of our limited training resources to start in the position in which we are likely to find ourselves.

I suspect Mr. Cowan would second that opinion.

-=[ Grant ]=-

  • Posted by Grant Cunningham
  • On August 26, 2013

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